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Tribeca Film Festival 2015: ‘Anesthesia,’ ‘Good Kill,’ ‘Bridgend,’ ‘Aloft,’ ‘Virgin Mountain’

After reviewing the comedies of Tribeca, it’s time to review the dramas.

anesthesia tribeca

Anesthesia (dir. Tim Blake Nelson, stars Sam Waterston, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol, Kristen Stewart, Glenn Close, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael K. Williams and K. Todd Freeman)

Unfortunately, movies with interconnected narratives will forever be compared to Crash. Tim Blake Nelson’s film is clearly of the same mold, but it’s not as over the top, cloying or as manipulative.

But it’s certainly miserable. Thankfully, the film features a string of stirring performances, and projects a lot of wisdom about the city of New York and a universally shared painful existence, with a desperately needed (slightly) hopeful outlook. After Law & Order, Sam Waterston is like the Gandalf of New York, and he’s terrific as Walter here, the heart of this difficult picture.

Every character is using something to dull the pain (an “anesthesia”), be it crack, work, sex or a curling iron. While the narratives aren’t created equal (Corey Stoll adultery subplot, I’m talking about you), they all melded together nicely. In particular, I was captivated by Kristen Stewart’s Sophie, a deeply depressed, disturbed and lonely individual. And K-Stew kills it. Until her recent string of excellence (Still Alice, Camp X-Ray and Clouds Sils Maria), it felt like Kristen Stewart was under an anesthetic on camera, and it’s wonderful to see this stunning side of her return, freed from Twilight and Snow White. GRADE: B+

good kill tribeca

Good Kill (dir. Andrew Niccol, stars Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz and Bruce Greenwood)

Good Kill is a liberal American Sniper with drones and January Jones. Teaming back up with Gattaca director Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke continues his unreal hot streak as pilot Tom Egan, a man tortured by the cowardice of flying drones from a bunker in Las Vegas.

Despite being able to return home to his family (including January Jones’ Molly, the symbol of marital strife thanks to Mad Men) after a day’s work, Tom further wallows in alcohol and torment. He needs the danger, he misses actually flying. He has PTSD but he’s still in the war, forced to pull the trigger from thousands of miles away at the behest of the faceless, heartless CIA, surrounded by his bloodthirsty comrades. Piloting drones is portrayed as the world’s highest stake video game, but a video game nonetheless, with a conflicted commander (the terrific Bruce Greenwood) admitting that the military increasingly approaches gamers to be recruits.

Good Kill is uncomfortable, and frankly, fucked, a sinister excoriation of the military, the CIA and the acceptable collateral damage inherent in war tactics. I’m not sure if the film works completely: I question the leverage and leeway that Egan has and what he can get away with, and think Kravitz’s Vera is ultimately mishandled. And one of these days, I want January Jones to get angry. But despite its flaws, and frankly, because of them, Good Kill is endlessly thrilling and compelling, as important a movie as you’ll find. GRADE: A-

bridgend tribeca

Bridgend (dir. Jeppe Ronde, stars Hannah Murray, Josh O’Connor, Steven Waddington)

Awards: Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film, Best Cinematography, Best Narrative Editing (World Narrative Competition)

Since 2007, dozens of teenagers have committed suicide in the town of Bridgend, Wales. It continues to happen today, an under-reported tragedy. I was in Cardiff while these were taking place, and heard nothing about it, but I was struck by the unease and disgruntled nature of the young Welsh populace.

Bridgend is a haunting, dour portrait of these incidents, from the POV of a transcendent Hannah Murray (Gilly in Game of Thrones). She’s adorable and heartbreaking as Sara, a young woman returning home to Bridgend with her cop father, immediately submerged into the mysterious and dangerous social life.

Bridgend never really explains the mystery, or why these suicides keep happening, and that’s precisely why it’s so scary. It’s equally infuriating, because these unfathomable events can’t be stopped. Are these teens a part of a conspiracy? A suicide pact? A cult? Is there someone nefarious pulling the strings? Is this the work of a serial killer or just peer pressure? Are they just bored? Do they really hate their parents? Is adolescent life so bad that the tenuous belief that they’ll meet their friends again and be in a better place in the afterlife worth the risk?

The beautifully shot Bridgend doesn’t have answers and that’s why it’s so powerful. GRADE: A

aloft tribeca

Aloft (dir. Claudia Llosa, stars Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent, Oona Chaplin)

Like in Anesthesia, Aloft is a movie about people in pain. In Anesthesia, the characters make themselves numb from it, whereas in Aloft, they seek healing from a spiritual cleric.

Aloft is gorgeously shot in the icy, desolate landscape of Manitoba, in a timeless world. The film is vague and disorienting, unclear and arguably better because of it (it feels like a dystopian future, but references modern dates). The film presents two narratives: Jennifer Connelly is Nana, the mother of two young boys, Ivan and Gully (Zen and Winta McGrath, respectively, both unreal). Gully is sick, and the decisions she makes forever haunt the film and its characters. Twenty years later, Cillian Murphy’s older Ivan is a tortured shell, simmering until the end. He joins Jannia (Melanie Laurent) on a dangerous journey to reconcile these dueling stories.

Aloft is tragic, sad and full of tremendous performances (led by Connelly), but the stories never completely connected together. Claudia Llosa’s point, that humanity strives to avoid feeling pain, despite it being a necessary part of the human experience, is a worthy one, but because of its ethereal storytelling, it’s hard to come to grips with. Jannia’s presence isn’t explained until the end, and she’s mostly a manifestation of the plot. Nana does some unconscionable things, and while that’s not damning in and of itself, we never truly understand why she does the things she does, and the climax, despite a mind-blowing explosion from Murphy, doesn’t provide any insight, or a satisfactory defense, on her end.

Of course, you can’t always explain away pain and you certainly won’t always find what you’re looking for. GRADE: B+

virgin mountain tribeca

Virgin Mountain (dir. Dagur Kári, stars Gunnar Jónsson, Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir)

Awards: Best Narrative Feature, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film (World Narrative Competition)

If there’s a theme at Tribeca this year, it’s that the world is filled with sad, lonely people and Fúsi towers over the rest, literally and figuratively. Fúsi (an otherworldly Gunnar Jónsson) is a massive, obese 43 year old still living with his Mom, working a thankless job unloading luggage at the airport, all free time spent playing military strategy games and painting models. Virgin Mountain is a worthy, humane spotlight on a character rarely seen in movies.

You’ve never felt more empathy in your life than for Fúsi, who’s bullied horribly by his co-workers, is badgered into awkward social situations by his Mother’s annoying boyfriend and just wants some human contact. His best friend outside of his war game buddy is a similarly lonely little girl. That alarm blinking off in your head is well found, unnecessary, and fodder for more gut-wrenching tragedy. But Fúsi seems to find something with Sjöfn (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir), and you’ve never been more tickled in your life, except she’s clinically depressed and you know things can’t possibly be this good.

And they aren’t. Virgin Mountain is heartbreaking, a series of emotional gut punches, that make you want Fúsi to have everything. That’s not how life works, but at least Fúsi has started living it, that’s enough to make Virgin Mountain one of the more moving and transformative experiences found at Tribeca. GRADE: A